Panel discusses big data in the energy industry
IBM Vice President Michael Valocchi
Big data will be playing a major role in the energy industry and sustainable business strategy, according to a panelist of five representing gas and utilities, a national research lab, academia and a major technology organization. The group spoke to students in Fisher’s energy and sustainability cluster.
Moderated by IBM Vice President Michael Valocchi, who leads the company’s energy and utilities practice, the panelists discussed how to achieve green infrastructures, such as smart energy grids and water systems, and how “big data” will play a role in creating smart and sustainable cities.
“I have been working in and around the energy business for 27 years,” Valocchi said, in kicking off the panel discussion. “I’ve seen so many changes in energy from engineering, infrastructure, economic and environmental, and we will see how big data fits in with all of that.”
AEP Ohio, in partnership with Battelle and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is conducting a gridSMART study that is testing digital “smart meters” to replace traditional electrical meters used to measure power and electric as well as home heating and air-conditioning. Approximately 200 homes are participating in the gridSMART program.
“We are getting to the most interesting part of the project,” said Pablo Vegas, president and chief operating officer of AEP. “We are collecting the information utilizing techniques that are big data oriented.”
The data will inform the company on a wide range of issues from engineering and infrastructure standpoints on how energy services are delivered and provide information on customer preferences on usage and pricing. Vegas used the 2012 power outages and heat waves as examples of how the company is examining structural changes to support customer demands and re-routing services to support areas that need it.
Steve Widergren, principal engineer who is managing the gridSMART central Ohio study on behalf of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said “ what we can do with the newer, computer technologies and communications is really what is transforming us into this next generation.”
“It is a great time for us to be having this conversation,” said Joe Hamrock, executive vice president and Group CEO for Nisource. Hamrock described Nisource as a “pipes company” that distributes and transmits utilities such as electricity, natural gas and water from other companies to the consumer.
“Big data gets even bigger when you start to think about the geopolitics and the data related to climate modeling and how do we wrestle those issues to the ground in a meaningful way.”
Ohio State Professor Elena Irwin, who specializes in environmental economics and ecosystem services, said that is where the importance of big data can inform sustainability and service efficiencies. She also pointed out that academia understands the importance of training the next generation of data scientists.
“Clearly there is a need for that, there is a huge talent gap and that’s been one of the motivating factors for IBM’s partnership with OSU,” said Irwin, who teaches in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics.